WORDS & IMAGE: KATE WEINER
Earlier this year, I visited the Findhorn Foundation to explore social and spiritual resilience. Findhorn is a spiritual community, learning center, and ecovillage in the Scottish Highlands. From permaculture intensives to meditation retreats, Findhorn is a rich resource for transforming "love into action" through community and co-creation.
In spite of this, I have struggled to write this essay. Even as I searched through my notes from interviews with folks from the Findhorn community and scrolled through my snapshots of sustainable homes and just-blooming gardens, I continually came up empty. Although I had many conversations that I cherished at Findhorn over nourishing vegetarian suppers in the dining hall, several were jarring. I wrestled with deep confusion and discomfort as much as I experienced sweet peace and illuminating insight. Some experiences take a long time to process and I am coming to realize that the few days I spent at Findhorn can't be tackled in a single essay. And so I want to devote this essay to exploring the spiritual resilience and search for sanctuary that I dug into during my week at Findhorn.
My first day at Findhorn, I arrived to a packed schedule. Although I was scheduled to work in the garden with the warm and wise Jewels, when I found Jewels during lunch, she told me to get some rest. “You need time to ground!” she said. Given that I had been traveling for the last 12 hours, I eagerly returned to my cabin to take a nap.
When I woke, it was the golden hour. Walking through Findhorn during this liminal lapse of light I was struck at just how beautiful this community is. The green roofs glowed in the sweet orange light and the forest glittered. I walked past the wind turbines that help to power Findhorn and toward the sand dunes. I had spent the last few months in dry Colorado and breathing in the crisp sea air filled me with deep joy.
Over the next few days, my most treasured moments were when I was walking across the campus. Although I spent many hours interviewing folks from the community, what I really craved was time alone. The energy of Findhorn inspired me to tune into my true needs. As I reflected on a fraught past few months, I realized that what my spirit craved was solitude. I was thankful that several of the folks that I met with at Findhorn supported this desire to ground. Deep sleep, mindless meanders, early mornings sipping tea, and comforting conversation with the community over suppers truly fed my soul. I had a lot to work through and a lot that was working through me. Findhorn gave me the space to listen to my body. What made me uncomfortable. What filled me with peace. What sparked a fire.
During a particularly chilly afternoon at Findhorn, I clambered up a sand dune overlooking a labyrinth and fell asleep in the bright sun. When I woke, I searched the coastal trail for signs of life. Save for the crash of waves and a lone walker navigating the beach, I was alone. I dug my bare feet into the sun warmed sand and turned again to the infinite blue above.
As I searched the sky, I felt anxiety flare in my belly. Being surrounded by community made me reflect on my own struggles to belong. When I am especially sleepy and stressed—as I was after an exhausting half-day of travel and a full few weeks of work—I crave the space to go inward and the familiarity of old friends. I don't always want to show up and do the hard work of building relationships. I want to take a few days to rest and eat and wonder. I didn't know if giving myself what I needed was really what I needed and I didn't know how to find a sense of peace. I still felt jet lagged and tired, still felt slow to process and hungry for happiness.
Even though I crave a connection to spirit, I have always wrestled to find spiritual healing in those spaces that have brought others real peace. Many of my most transcendent moments are unexpected. Shivering in Joshua Tree at 4 AM in the blue-black morning after a fierce wind tore my tent to shreds. Sinking into the dying grass in my childhood backyard one cool autumn evening. Watching the full moon from a trail sheltered in sage. I had hoped that Findhorn would bring me the spiritual salvation I was searching for—and I was reminded that no single person or place is a cure-all. Findhorn was only a part of my pursuit for spiritual resilience. And I was learning, as I savored my walks through the woods and learned about the diverse practices within the community, that spirituality was a perpetual practice. Sometimes I would feel disconnected. Other times I would feel truly tuned in. Just like the lunar energies that shaped the surrounding tides, my own sense of spiritual resilience would wax and wane. My only task was to tend to my basic needs, nurture what and who I loved, and be present to my becoming.
During a joyful tour of the gardens with Jewels my first full day at Findhorn, we crossed paths with a woman, S., who came by every few days to tend to the garden. Jewels and S. were talking about tearing down a hedge that was shading a greenhouse. "But what does the hedge want?" S. implored.
That question has stayed with me in the month and a half since I left Findhorn. It returned me to a trek through the woods in NY last spring to forage for wild leeks. Before each harvest, my friend Lynn would ask her daughter to check in with the leek. Was it ready to be uprooted?
As I reflect on spiritual resilience, I am attuned to the value in asking not just what we need to rise up but what our ecosystems need from us to regenerate. Listening to the wild leek. Turning to the hedge. Standing at a juncture in the trail and talking with the tall trees surrounding. By conversing and communing with our earth, we deepen our capacity to cultivate supportive spaces. We might not always feel at home. We might worry we don't belong. We might feel the beauty and burden of a million and one emotions—the joy, the wondering, the fear, the love, the grief, the loss, the peace. We can only converse, as I did at Findhorn and as I strive to continue to do, with the places and people that we share a home with. We can only open up the channels for communication, community, and connection, knowing it will be imperfect and uneasy and beautiful, too.